What exactly is consent?

SALT LAKE CITY, Utah (ABC4 Utah) - A former football standout accused of rape and forcible sodomy pleaded guilty to reduced charges Thursday.

Osa Masina was scheduled to go on trial next week, but instead he pleaded guilty to three counts of Class A misdemeanors of sexual battery.

This case is once again bringing the topic of consent to the forefront of the conversation about sexual assault and rape. Advocates say many are still confused on exactly what it means. They say it is a constant conversation.

"As a society we should change our viewpoint to no means no to yes means yes,” said Turner Bitton, Executive Director of Utah Coalition Against Sexual Assault.

Turner Bitton says it's been hard getting over the biases when it comes to consent. As Executive Director of UCASA, he's says there have been issues getting people to understand what consent is, and realizing people can change their mind at any time.

"As a society we have to change the way we look at consent. Consent is a process it's not a one off,” said Bitton.

In the recent Osa Masina case the attorney representing the family argued the victim sent text messages to another friend saying she wanted to be intimate with Masina.

While technology and social media is leaving a record of people's intent, advocates say that is in no way shape or form consent.

"That's not consent because A it didn't happen in the moment. There are a number of factors that going into someone being able to give consent. The first and foremost is that they be sober and aware of their ability to give consent."

Sexual assault survivors like Lorcan Murphy have been trying to spread the word on consent by telling their stories. One of his biggest messages is that people have to talk and know for sure it's something that's wanted.

"I think that it's important for people to kind of be aware that sometimes people are going to say no and sometimes no isn't always going to be explicitly spelled out,” said Lorcan Murphy, sexual assault survivor.

Advocates say consent is not just a conversation for college students, but is something that should be discussed at all ages and is even for those who are already in a relationship.

This piece originally appeared in Good4Utah. Click here to read the original article. 


New youth council combating sexual violence

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Young people ages 18-25 experience some of the highest victimization rates of sexual violence, according to Turner Bitton. 

That’s why he helped appoint a council of young people to combat the issue.

“We love to have young people get engaged in our work,” Bitton said. “Young people really will be and are the leaders of the future.”

Bitton is the executive director of the Utah Coalition Against Sexual Assault, a non-profit organization that “engages individuals and organizations in local and statewide collaborations to strengthen the effectiveness of sexual violence education, prevention and response in Utah,” according to its website. 

He also helped develop the new Young Emerging Leaders Advisory Council, comprised of 12 community leaders and victims’ advocates ages 18-30 who support and contribute to the Utah Coalition Against Sexual Assault.

Bitton said the Young Emerging Leaders Advisory Council was created in response to experiences the Utah Coalition Against Sexual Assault had while doing prevention work.

“There’s generally not very good representation of young people in the higher levels of organization and strategic planning for coalition work, and so we decided that it was very important to us to have young people sit at the table,” Bitton said.

But the Young Emerging Leaders Advisory Council will do more than simply support the Utah Coalition Against Sexual Assault. Bitton said it will hold its own meetings, host its own events, creating its own charter and deciding what activities it wants to participate in.

Some of those activities will be organizing events on college campuses and receiving significant anti-discrimination training, he added.

“So by engaging now … we can drive down victimization rates and we can engage the next generation of political leaders and business leaders and others in the work of sexual violence prevention and intervention,” he said.

BYU senior and Young Emerging Leaders Advisory Council member Tinesha Zandamela said the council’s diversity will bring new perspectives to their work. 

UCASA

Young Emerging Leaders Advisory Council member Tinesha Zandamela is a BYU senior double majoring in sociology and French. She said both men and women can be educated about sexual violence prevention. (Utah Council Against Sexual Assault)

“We have different people who are so incredible, and so I think just the fact that we’re offering a different background as a team (will make the biggest impact),” Zandamela said.

Zandamela, who is double majoring in sociology and French, said sexual assault issues persist for a number of reasons from misinformation to apathy. Being educated can help people better understand different facets of the issue, like how women of color are disproportionately affected by sexual assault, Zandamela said.

However, Zandamela added, combating the issue isn’t only up to women.

“I think (both) women and men can be educated,” she said. “They can teach their friends about the things that they know and they can continually be involved in their communities.”

UCASA

Young Emerging Leaders Advisory Council member Tyler Clancy is a BYU sophomore studying family life. He’s also one of only two men on the council. (Utah Council Against Sexual Assault)

Tyler Clancy, another BYU student on the Young Emerging Leaders Advisory Council, said sexual violence is a men’s issue because everyone is related to women, from mothers to sisters to daughters.

“So it is in everyone’s best interest to have a world, have a country (and) have a community with a safe environment for women,” Clancy said.

Clancy is a sophomore from South Carolina studying family life. He’s also one of only two men on the council, which is why his goals include involving more men in sexual assault victim advocacy. 

“I think a lot of guys, when they start talking about it … realize how important it is,” Clancy said.

Clancy said policy makers and people in general often focus on resolving problems later in life, rather than stopping the issues before they start in younger groups of people. That’s why the council is focusing on solving problems among younger generations, he said.

Clancy also said young people have a passion for making the world a better place.

“I think this council is… going to be a vehicle to channel all that passion that we have in the great young people of Utah to combat an issue that is a real problem and is something that we really can fix,” he said.

This piece originally appeared in the BYU Daily Universe. Click here to read the original article. 


USU student appointed to sexual assault prevention youth group

When Rachael Fresh arrived at Utah State University, she didn’t even know sexual assault was a problem on campus.

But in 2014, when she was on the studentbody president’s cabinet, Fresh recalled how then-USU Student Association President Doug Fiefia brought in “some really shocking statistics” on colleges campuses throughout the U.S.

“You never talk about it when you’re growing up in Utah,” Fresh said. “We had a couple of people come forward and talk about their own experiences. I told Doug I wanted to get on this initiative and help the people of Utah State.”

The initiative Fresh was referring to was “It’s On Us,” an effort created by the Obama administration to stop sexual violence on campus.

Fresh has done so much more on the issue of sexual violence on campus since that time, and it has caught the attention of others.

She was recently named a member of the Young Emerging Leaders Advisory Council, under the Utah Coalition Against Sexual Assault.

According to a UCASA news release, the council will bring “valuable youth perspectives” to UCASA’s efforts and work with “communities and schools across the state demonstrating that young people are the key to preventing and eliminating sexual violence in our communities.”

Fresh talked about sexual violence and what she hopes comes out of her one-year appointment to the council.

Q: UCASA is not just focused on preventing sexual violence on college and university campuses, it’s about preventing sexual assault and rape anywhere, right?

A: Yes, definitely. Their focus is on the whole state — from prevention to understanding to intervention, they have 14 different programs that focus on that. This Young Emerging Leaders Council is just to get younger voices in there. My knowledge is what’s going on at Utah State and what’s going on on college campuses. That’s why I believe I’m on the council, is to have that voice.

Q: What can the youth voice do to prevent sexual violence?

A: I think it can be tremendously effective because I believe a solution we have to the problems in this world is education. If we start people off young, having knowledge about sexual assault and how to prevent it or what to do when it happens to you … the better it’s going to be in the long run.

So UCASA is doing an amazing job at helping people, but this (council) is just to bring an element of, “Here are these younger people who have this passion, who have an understanding, to come and give their voice.”

Q: How is the council going to go about helping prevent sexual assault in our community?

A: As a council we meet once a month, and right now we’re just developing the council — we’re creating a charter, we’re creating a structure of how we’re going to work in the future.

Then, we’re all choosing programs we’re really interested in. Personally, I want to go into high school education, and so I’m very passionate about teaching high schoolers before they get to college that this is a problem so they’re not coming here like I was.

Q: Talk about that a little more — how you plan to educate high school students.

A: One of my passions is mental health, and I was able to go to two high schools in Cache Valley. (Sexual assault) is kind of the same thing (as mental health) — there’s a large stigma; it’s an awkward topic; no high school wants to talk about it. But I found that when you sat down with students and you tell them personal stories and you give them statistics, they rise above.

I truly believe if you come forward and say, “Hey guys, you’re walking into college; that’s a huge adjustment. You’re going to be facing stuff that’s hard, and here’s one thing you might face: (sexual assault).” When they hear that and get that shock, and you tell them ways they can help, I believe that those kids are going to take that and run with it. They’re going to make it better in college because they’re going to come away prepared.

Q: Have you ever experienced sexual assault or rape?

A: No, I haven’t. For me, sometimes I feel like, “Oh, I shouldn’t be the one signing up for this, because I don’t know what it feels like,” but I also think being an advocate along with them is more of what we need. Yes, we need everyone who has suffered from that to stand up. … But if everyone in the state of Utah was signing up and advocating for it, I think we’d go a lot farther.

This piece originally appeared on hjnews.com. Click here to read the original article.


UCASA hosts screening of ‘The Voiceless,’ on male survivors of sexual violence

The Utah Coalition Against Sexual Assault (UCASA), along with a consortium of partners and agencies, will host a screening and panel discussion of the internationally recognized documentary film “The Voiceless.” This powerful straight to camera film features the stories of five male survivors of sexual violence and panelists will discuss culture, masculinity and other important concepts.

“Every victim deserves justice and we cannot forget that men also experience sexual violence. Male survivors of sexual violence often
face unique barriers due to a variety of factors. Our goal with this screening is to shine a light on these factors and to create a dialogue about the needs of male survivors in general.”

– Turner C. Bitton, UCASA Executive Director

The event is co-hosted by a group of partner agencies including the Men’s Anti-violence Network of Utah, Talk to a Survivor, the Thayne Center at Salt Lake Community College, Pacific Island Knowledge to Action Resources, South Valley Services, Rape Recovery Center and Red Mesa Counseling Center.

 

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Billboard campaign aims to label magazine as 'explicit content'

SALT LAKE CITY, Utah (ABC4 News) - You may have seen a billboard posted in multiple locations throughout the Salt Lake Valley that reads “Cosmopolitan Magazine Contains Pornography.” The billboard is part of a campaign to label the magazine as “Explicit Content.” 

Victoria Hearst is an Heiress to the Hearst Corporation, and the creator of the campaign. Hearst corporation owns Cosmopolitan Magazine. Victoria Hearst says she started the campaign, Cosmo Hurts Kids, to get the magazine out of the hands of children. Hearst says when her grandfather originally bought the magazine in 1906 that it was “a classy women’s magazine.” 

Hearst explained that the goal of the campaign is to get it placed on higher shelves and blocked with blinders. 

In early 2017 Hearst enlisted the help of Senator Todd Weiler and an activist against the sexual exploitation of children, Jennifer Brown. The two agree that the magazine is not suitable for children. 

“I've been in dentists offices and doctors offices, and I don't know that anyone knows how bad it's gotten in the magazine, so I applaud her for getting that message out,” explains Senator Weiler. 

However, not everyone agrees that the magazine should be labeled that way. Some people believe the magazine may even have educational value. 

Turner Bitton, the Executive Director of the Utah Coalition Against Sexual Violence says, “The thing about for example Cosmo...that's traditionally where we would see youth get this information. The things about an organization like that is that they're held to journalistic standards, generally, and there's liability there. No media, no magazine, wants to be responsible for a child being hurt, a child utilizing their information to experience violence or to get into trouble, so there's a little bit of accountability built into the system there.”

Bitton went on to explain that children do, however, need to be learning about healthy relationships as well. He said ideally, youth will get this information from trained professionals and their parents. 

ABC 4 reached out to teens at Salt Lake City’s Planned Parenthood Teen Council to see what they thought about the campaign, and they had mixed responses. 

Grace Ritter, a student from Salt Lake City, says “I think that sex columns in magazines are definitely not how we want to be receiving or teaching young people about sex...It also doesn't provide a lot of integral information that should be there, especially  things about safety and how to keep yourself safe.” 

Another student from Salt Lake City had a different opinion. “I don't think that it's porn. I think it's advice. I think it's to help people in their lives. Sex is a part of your life, and it's not something that you should shy away from,” says Sophia Gener. 

But Victoria Hearst disagrees, and feels compelled by a higher power to keep this magazine out of the hands of those under 18. “I'm not gonna let the devil get away with it, I'm not gonna let the devil sit there and argue that there's another side to pornography,” explains Hearst. 

This article originally appeared on good4utah.com. Click here to read the original article. 


Victims of rape, advocates worry about new guidelines for college campuses

Salt Lake City — (KUTV) Jasmine Despain, 24, who was raped while she was in college, is deeply worried about what the new guidelines for campus rape investigations will mean for victims.

“I think it’s devastating for students,” she said.

The guidelines, imposed by U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy Devos, replace guidelines put in place during the Obama administration.

The Obama guidelines pushed colleges and universities to focus on the well-being of the victim in conducting Title IX investigations.

Victim advocates say the new guidelines put the burden of proof back on victims and give perpetrators the benefit of the doubt.

“It’s an abandoning of moral leadership,” said Turner Bitton.

Bitton, Executive Director of Utah Coalition Against Sexual Assault (UCASA) said Title IX investigations are not to be treated like criminal cases, they are civil rights investigations to determine if assault interfered with a student’s right to an education.

Bitton said DeVos suggested too many students are falsely accused of rape investigations are often unfair to them.

Link to DeVos tweet

“Evidence shows so-called false reports are very low – almost non-existent,” he said.

Bitton worries that advances made in protecting victim rights on college campuses will one day be abandoned if DeVos turns the guidelines into mandates – which he expects will happen someday.

He expects Utah colleges and universities to continue to make improvements in their treatment of victims despite the guidelines but he feels DeVos’ actions will have a chilling effect on victims who might think twice about reporting.

Despain said when she was raped at Utah State University, she did not receive support from the school. She was left to get through her pain and the criminal trial of her perpetrator on her own.

Her grades suffered and she lost money moving from campus housing to an off-campus apartment.

She fears the new guidelines will discourage schools from doing more to help victims.

Link to "What Rape Culture means" tweet

“How can we know they are going to honor victims and be there for people like me?” she said.

At the University of Utah, Darrah Jones, Sexual Assault Support Advocate, said as long as the university is not told to make changes, they will continue helping victims who need emotional support or help understanding their options as far as reporting to police or campus administrators.

“We are going to continue to provide as much holistic support as possible to make sure survivors have access to healing,” Jones said.

The University of Utah issued this statement regarding the new guidelines:

We do not anticipate that today's announcement by the Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights regarding sexual violence on college campuses will significantly impact the existing policies at the University of Utah. Our policies aim to both protect victims and provide due process to those involved. However, we will review the guidelines and evaluate whether any aspects of our policies could benefit from changes in the coming year, in consultation with our faculty, staff and students. The safety and well-being of our students remains our top priority. We will continue to provide victim advocate and counseling services, protective measures, bystander intervention trainings and other awareness programs.

The original article, tweets and video were published on kutv.com. Click here to read the original article.


After a series of rape allegations at Utah State, federal justice department launches rare investigation into university

The Department of Justice has for months been investigating how Utah State University responds to reports of sexual assault.

In a January letter released by USU on Tuesday, the department’s civil rights division said it had learned of allegations regarding how the school has handled ”numerous reports of student-on-student sexual assault.” The department said its investigation was focusing on cases between 2013 and 2016. 

The inquiry is different — and more serious — than the reviews federal education officials are overseeing at hundreds of colleges across the country, said S. Daniel Carter, president of Safety Advisors for Educational Campuses, LLC.

The scope of a DOJ investigation is usually much larger, as the department typically looks at ”more systemic issues across an entire community,” he said.

USU did not immediately release an enclosure in the letter that listed the documents requested by the department. While it isn’t clear what allegations or cases the DOJ is examining, three USU students have been charged or convicted in high-profile sexual assaults alleged to have occurred between 2013 and 2015.

In the case of former football player Torrey Green, four women told Logan police in 2015 that they had been assaulted by Green, but no charges were filed and he was not questioned about two of the reports. After The Salt Lake Tribune reported the complaints, other alleged victims came forward, and Green is now charged in seven assaults. He has denied the allegations. 

USU’s internal investigation revealed that the school “fell short” in handling reports related to Green — at least three women said they reported him to the school — but it has refused to detail those shortcomings or release its inquiry, citing student privacy protections. Green has told The Tribune the school talked to him about one incident, which he did not specify.

An attorney for former USU student Victoria Hewlett, who has sued the school for allegedly mishandling sexual assault allegations against two other students, said she is cooperating with the DOJ investigation. 

University officials said in a statement that the school is working with the DOJ’s Educational Opportunities Section as it investigates the university and its Title IX practices. Title IX is a federal law that charges universities with ensuring students receive education without sex-based discrimination.

“USU is cooperating fully with the review and welcomes the opportunity this will provide as we continue to improve our processes,” spokesman Eric Warren wrote. ”Because this is an ongoing inquiry, it would not be appropriate to discuss details of the review.”

News of the federal review became public this week after the school’s student newspaper, the Utah Statesman, published a story about the investigation.

DOJ officials said Tuesday that they could not give details about specific allegations being considered.

According to advocate Turner Bitton, the department is seeking information from people who have had experiences with USU’s Title IX office, inviting them to call (202)-616-2540 or email brigid.benincasa@usdoj.gov.

Bitton, executive director of the Utah Coalition Against Sexual Assault (UCASA), said the organization became involved with the DOJ review at USU in recent weeks. He said the coalition has been connecting investigators with people.

“We’re obviously hopeful folks will participate,” he said. “Oftentimes, people view these investigations as a punishment or a finding of a shortfall. That’s not necessarily the case. It’s a fact-finding investigation. The more people who participate, the better it will be for everyone.”

He added that if anyone doesn’t feel comfortable reaching out directly to the Department of Justice, they can contact UCASA. “We can help facilitate some different mechanisms to protect their privacy,” he said.

The U.S. Department of Education has more than 300 Title IX reviews underway nationwide, Carter said, but there are few Title IX investigations by Justice officials.

“This would be the only one under investigation that I am currently aware of,” Carter said. ”It is much more rare and far, far more serious.”

A DOJ investigation at the University of Montana extended into the criminal justice system and led to a community-wide audit. In 2015, the department said the Missoula police department had completed “historic” changes to improve its response to sexual assault, including training and a review process for cases that were not pursued.

It’s not clear how far-reaching the investigation in Utah will be. Cache County Attorney James Swink said he hasn’t heard from anyone about the investigation, and Logan police also said they are not involved with the process.

Hewlett was sexually assaulted by former USU student Jason Relopez in 2015.  He was sentenced in 2016 to a year in jail for attempted rape and attempted forcible sex abuse, and as part of his plea deal, admitted raping Hewlett and another USU student.

Hewlett’s lawsuit contends USU mishandled complaints about both Relopez and Ryan Wray, a former president of Pi Kappa Alpha charged in a separate assault. Prosecutors said Wray inappropriately touched a woman at the fraternity in 2014, while he was assigned to keep watch over partygoers who couldn’t take care of themselves. He pleaded guilty to attempted forcible sex abuse and was sentenced to six months in jail.

Jeffrey Eisenberg, Hewlett’s attorney, said she wants to bring attention to underreported sexual assaults on campuses and to the peer pressure and retaliation that can occur when an assault is reported.

She filed suit “to not only bring attention to [the handling of her case,] but so other students who are the victims of sexual assault will see an example of someone who has challenged this through the legal system,” he said.

The Tribune generally does not identify sexual assault victims, but Hewlett has agreed to the use of her name. 

USU has asked for Hewlett’s lawsuit to be dismissed, arguing that school officials did not violate her rights.

After its internal investigation into reports related to Green, USU vowed to improve its relationship with local law enforcement. It also said it would ensure employees follow mandatory reporting responsibilities and better educate students about consent and reporting options, among other reforms.

Five other Utah universities are being evaluated by the Department of Education for potential Title IX violations: Westminster College, the University of Utah, Brigham Young University, Dixie State University and Utah Valley University.

Bitton said the coalition is not involved in any of the other Title IX reviews pending in the state, but noted a DOJ investigation “looks different” than a typical review.

This piece originally appeared in the Salt Lake Tribune. Click here to read the original article.


Department of Justice investigating USU for Title IX practices

The Department of Justice is investigating Utah State University for how it handles sexual assault complaints.

The DOJ’s Civil Rights Division is investigating how the university handles sexual assault complaints, said USU spokesperson Eric Warren. He added that the university is cooperating, but did not provide further detail.

Allison Allred, a sophomore studying marketing, shared her experience with the university’s Title IX office, which handles sexual assault complaints.

The Utah Statesman normally does not identify victims of sexual assault, but Allred agreed to be identified by her full name for this story.

Allred attended an off-campus party in fall 2015 with a male acquaintance, who she said sexually assaulted her during the party.

She first went to the Sexual Assault and Anti-Violence Information (SAAVI) office and after telling the office she wished to report her assault to the university, she was told to speak to the university’s Office of Student Conduct. That office enforces the student code of conduct and decides consequences for those found guilty of violating it.

Allred said she imagined — and hoped — the process would end there. She wanted closure and to not have to worry about seeing her assailant, she said.

However, she was then sent to the university’s Title IX office, where she had to relive the experience once again, the third time in just a few days.

“You don’t want to have to relive it,” she said. “To have to go through telling the story over and over again and relive that process is frustrating and humiliating and upsetting to say the least.”

After telling her story to the Title IX office, Allred said she was told that he was not currently enrolled in classes at USU. The office told her the only option was reporting the incident to the police, which she was not comfortable with.

“After (the Title IX coordinator) told me that, the process just stopped and nothing happened, which was frustrating,” Allred said. 

Still, she took comfort in knowing she would not see him on campus.

Or so she thought.

The next semester, she said she saw him at a social gathering which was only open to currently-enrolled USU students.

“I got so sick,” she said.

Allred said she hoped she could avoid him — but later found out he was in her statistics class.

“Your stomach just drops. You can almost see the blood leave your face,” she said. 

Allred did not intend for her perpetrator to serve legal consequences but said she wishes he would have received even a small form of punishment.

“It almost would have been enough for me if they would have called him in and told him he was being watched,” she said. “That would have been better than nothing.”

Turner Bitton, executive director of the Utah Coalition Against Sexual Assault, said he “encourages all stakeholders to engage in this vital process and to provide the critical feedback that will provide critical information to the process.” 

Bitton added that “certainly, over the last several years, we’ve really seen some good standards of practice come out (of previous DOJ investigations).”

Five Utah higher education institutions are currently being investigated by the Department of Education for Title IX enforcement practices: Brigham Young University, Utah Valley University, the University of Utah, Westminster College and Dixie State University.

Although the U.S. Department of Education typically leads these type of investigations, it is unclear whether that organization is involved in the current case at USU. Usually, the Department of Justice only gets involved in “very high profile” cases, according to a national Title IX expert. 

S. Daniel Carter, president of Safety Advisors for Educational Campuses, LLC., said a DOJ investigation into a university is usually warranted by a “broader, systemic concern that may also include the local criminal justice system.”

Carter said in his more than 25-year career, he “can’t think of any more than a handful of times that (the DOJ) has gotten involved in one of these cases.” 

At this time it is unknown what specific incidents led the DOJ to intervene at USU. Carter said the investigation could have been triggered by a complaint from a victim or university staff member, or could have arisen simply from the DOJ becoming aware of a mishandled case.

Carter added that because the Department of Justice historically only involves themselves in high-profile cases, he speculates that the Torrey Green case could have sparked the investigation.

In that case, four women, who reportedly did not know each other, reported then-USU student and football player Torrey Green to local police agencies. Green was not removed from the university and charges were not filed until the story was published by The Salt Lake Tribune more than a year later.

Since then, Green has been charged with sexual misconduct involving seven women.

“There’s no question in my mind that people across the nation and across the world were aware of (Green),” Carter speculated. “That case might involve the broader systemic issues that, historically, the Department of Justice would look into.”

The Utah Statesman requested details of the investigation from the university and the DOJ. USU declined to provide further details and the Department of Justice would not comment, in general. 

“All we do know is that there were two very high-profile, very serious cases involving Utah State, either one of which — or both of which — could have provided information to the Department of Justice that would raise concerns,” Carter said, referring to Green’s case as well as the case of Jason Relopez, who was convicted in 2016 of attempted rape and attempted forcible sex abuse.

The DOJ is seeking feedback from participants who have been through the Title IX process at USU to aid in its investigation. The department asks those willing to share their experiences to call (202)-616-2540 or email brigid.benincasa@usdoj.org for more information.

This article originally appeared in the USU Statesman. Click here to read the original article. 


Anti-Sexual Assault Advocate Says DeVos Intentions Are Crystal Clear

The director of a Utah coalition says Thursday's announcement by United States Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos is an insult to victims of sexual assault.

“Secretary DeVos’ comments, while they were fairly ambiguous, the message was crystal clear,” says Turner Bitton, executive director for the Utah Coalition Against Sexual Assault, a nonprofit organization that provides education and resources to various groups around the state.

Bitton and his group work as advocates for survivors of sexual violence.

DeVos announced she is pushing for an end to the Obama-era rules for Title IX, the law requiring universities to investigate claims of sexual misconduct, as well as ensure a safe and equal environment for all students.is responding to a possible loss of federal support for programs that protect victims of sexual assault. 

He expects the announcement is a precursor to ending sexual assault procedural and processing guidance from the federal government. The education secretary says she is reviewing guidelines some consider to be unfair toward the accused. Included in the law is the “dear colleague” letter that outlines how schools should handle sexual assault allegations.

“I don’t necessarily believe that institutions will quit acting in the best interest of sexual violence survivors,” Bitton said. “Fortunately for the state of Utah, many of our colleges and institutions work well with the community programs in their areas. They’re doing a lot of programming, doing a lot of work to help provide information on sexual violence.”

Although he sees an increase in awareness and advocacy at the local level Bitton says the lack of support from the federal government poses a problem for survivors of sexual violence, especially at universities.

“Without the ‘dear colleague’ letter, really what we risk doing is going back to a day when someone who experienced sexual violence was on their own,’’ he said.

DeVos is not revealing specifics about how she plans to approach Title IX. Bitton says until she does he is being proactive in encouraging universities and colleges to support policies that will still put sexual assault survivors first.

This piece originally appeared on Utah Public Radio. Click here to read the original article and listen to the recording of the broadcast.


Advocates say DeVos speech bad for sexual assault victims on college campuses

SALT LAKE CITY — Local advocates for survivors of sexual assault say college students will be less likely to report attacks in the wake of an address by Education Secretary Betsy DeVos on Thursday.

Speaking at George Mason University School of Law in Fairfax, Virginia, DeVos vowed to replace an Obama administration system of campus assault enforcement that she says is broken for both survivors of sexual assault and those wrongly accused, and "fails all students."

Too often the conversation has been framed as "a contest between men and women," or the rights of sexual misconduct survivors and the due process rights of accused students, she said.

"The reality is, however, a different picture. There are men and women, boys and girls, who are survivors, and there are men and women, boys and girls, who are wrongfully accused," DeVos said.

"I've met them personally. I've heard their stories. And the rights of one person can never be paramount to the rights of another."

Rep. Angela Romero, D-Salt Lake City, who has successfully carried a number of bills on various aspects of sexual assault through the Utah Legislature in recent years, described DeVos' address as "troubling."

"I'm afraid that victims won't report because they'll feel like people won't believe them," Romero said. "There's a reason why we've been heading toward this victim-centric approach to where we give the power back to the victim of sexual assault, and I think we're taking steps back.

"At the end of the day, rape is rape and sexual assault is sexual assault. As we know, only 2 to 10 percent are false accusations," she said.

The Utah Coalition Against Sexual Assault said in a prepared statement that DeVos' announcement "tips the scales of justice away from survivors of sexual violence."

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